WILLIAMSTOWN - New service at the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport may begin later than earlier expected after the United States Department of Transportation announced the bidding airlines can change proposals.
"Last week, the DOT released a notice to give the competing airlines two weeks to amend their bids," said airport manager Jeff McDougle.
Earlier this month, the airport announced it had received bid packages to provide federally subsidized commercial air service from four airlines: Boutique Air, City Link Air, Silver Airways and Sun Air Express. Plans for the original two-year bids were for the airports to have their selection to the USDOT by May 28, but this amendment will likely change the process, McDougle said.
Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport Manager Jeff McDougle points out items in the original bid specifications to the Wood County Airport Authority members during a recent meeting. (File Photo)
"The DOT has said they will allow us to wait to see what the amendments entail before we must have our decision to them," he added.
Three of the proposed airlines - Boutique Air, City Link Air and Sun Air Express - were at a meeting at the Pittsburgh International Airport, where they would provide service, with McDougle and former local airport manager Terry Moore as well as officials with the Pittsburgh airport and city more than a week ago. Both Boutique and Sun Air visited the local airport on their own.
"Representatives from other EAS airports in the bids were also at this meeting, which was fairly well attended," McDougle said. "It was helpful and gave us a chance to see how the Pittsburgh airport has been doing in the past few years."
The local airport had flown to Pittsburgh for years until the larger airport lost its hub stature for most airlines. There are now about 150 flights per day out of the international facility, which is down significantly from the 600 it had during its heyday, McDougle added.
"During the meeting, we toured the facility and, at the end of the day, their air mall is amazing," he said. "Right now, I think the biggest thing we need to think about is the connecting flights available to our passengers.
"But, the meeting was helpful and gave us a chance to see what can be done," McDougle said.
The fourth airline is Silver Airways, which currently provides the Mid-Ohio Valley with service to Cleveland, who bid service to the Washington, D.C., area.
The original bids were:
* San Francisco-based Boutique Air currently provides commercial service between Los Angeles, Calif., and Las Vegas, Nevada, along with charter flights. This airline uses a nine-seat Pilatus PC-12 aircraft and has offered passenger of the Mid-Ohio Valley two options. These two choices are 36 nonstop flights per week to Pittsburgh International Airport at a subsidy of $2,335,785. The second option is 24 nonstop flights per week to Pittsburgh and 12 nonstop flights at a subsidy of $3,403,724.
Airports in 10 other locations that are part of this bid package also have a double hub option where it will end some flights in Pittsburgh while the other flights will be between Dulles the local facility.
* City Link Air is based out of Jacksonville, Fla., and proposed 37 nonstop flights between the local airport and Pittsburgh per week. These flights will be in Beech 1900, 19-seat aircraft. This package will cost $2,655,598 annually.
* Sun Air Express, based in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., has submitted a proposal for service to Pittsburgh from the airports in Bradford, Pa.; DuBois, Pa.; Franklin, Pa.; Jamestown, N.Y.; and locally. Each of these airports has a different number of flights in their proposal with the Mid-Ohio Valley bid having 36 weekly roundtrip flights four during weekdays and two each Saturday and Sunday.
Sun Air will use smaller planes in these bids, an eight-passenger Piper Chieftain. The plane can accommodate nine passengers if one of the two pilots stays behind. This annual projected subsidy is $2,742,761 for the MOV routes.
B Silver Airways has been providing service between the local airport and Cleveland Hopkins International Airport in Cleveland since October 2010. Cleveland is no longer in the running for Essential Air Service flights because it is no longer a hub for any major airline, which makes it difficult for passengers to catch flights to their desired destination.
Silver's bid is for nine communities: Altoona, Pa.; Johnstown, Pa.; Greenbrier/White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.; Beckley, W.Va.; Clarksburg, W.Va.; Morgantown, W.Va.; Staunton, Va.; DuBois, Pa.; and Parkersburg. This airline is working to get rid of its Beech 1900 aircraft, which sat 19 passengers, and will use Saab 3400, 34-passenger, planes for these flights.
While all bids for these nine facilities offer service to Washington Dulles International Airport, near Washington, D.C., there are a different number of flights and schedule options dependent on the airport community's needs.
The airline's bid for the local service is 18 flights per week. These include 12 nonstop to and from Dulles and six that will stop in Morgantown or Clarksburg's airports along the way.
"If Silver is awarded, passengers will have toilets and flight attendants," McDougle said. "The airline will also keep a crew and plane locally."
The total annual subsidy for all airports will be $23,610,300. The total cost of the local service to Dulles alone is $3,505.876, annually.
McDougle said he does not know what the amendments to the bid proposals will be or when they will be ready.
"We now just have to wait and see what the changes are and when the new recommendations are due," he said.
The Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport Authority, the marketing arm of the airport, will work with the Wood County Airport Authority, the facility's managing arm, to decide which service is the best for the airport and community.
The biggest thing the boards will have to decide is if they are willing to take a chance by flying into Pittsburgh because of the smaller number of flights from the facility.
Currently, Pittsburgh has 145 domestic and international flights per day while Dulles has 300 domestic and another 52 international flights each day, in comparison.
Another issue with Pittsburgh is the fact eight of its daily flights are provided by Southwest Airlines, which does not have interline agreements with any other airline. This means travelers have to get their bag from baggage claim, re-check it and go back through security to get on their connecting flight.
The original decision was due to the USDOT by May 28, but the new deadline is unknown.
The airports do not make the decision because the essential air service is provided by the USDOT, which chooses the bids for the airports.
Essential Air Service is a federal program that provides funding to airline companies that serve rural areas. Companies receive federal funding for every completed flight.